GLONASS as Dolgostroy

Viktor Myasnikov authored an interesting piece in the 17 December Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye regarding the loss of three GLONASS-M satellites in the Pacific on 5 December. 

Myasnikov said the ten-year Federal Targeted Program (FTsP or ФЦП) “Global Navigation System” has spent $4.7 billion since 2001, but GLONASS has confirmed its status as a ‘long unfinished work’ [dolgostroy or долгострой] in space.

Myasnikov pointed out Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s long personal interest in the system’s restoration, and Putin’s description of it as a sine qua non for development and deployment of modern precision weapons systems.  Myasnikov noted the government’s intention to invest 48 billion rubles in space and ground infrastructure for GLONASS in 2010-2011.

He said the 3 ill-fated GLONASS-M and now-delayed GLONASS-K, originally intended for launch on 28 December, were supposed to bring GLONASS to a complete constellation of 24 satellites and full global coverage. 

President Dmitriy Medvedev had just promised that the GLONASS grouping would be fully formed before the end of 2010, and its large-scale use would begin in the next two years.

After the 5 December failure, Medvedev ordered an investigation of GLONASS, its financing, and who might be responsible for the 5 December mishap.

Myasnikov also explored the insurance scheme for the 5 December launch.  It turns out insurance was provided by the ‘Sputnik’ Insurance Center, which just happens to be run by the sons of current and former deputy chiefs of Roskosmos.  ‘Sputnik’ has assured everyone that the GLONASS loss was reliably reinsured, but it provided no specifics.  Roskosmos Chief Anatoliy Perminov, however, said the launch was partially insured, and a settlement will be collected but only after a long and drawn-out process.

Myasnikov spends some time discussing possible causes of the 5 December accident which largely boil down to an upper stage improperly fueled with too much liquid oxygen.  He concludes that, while a couple scapegoats might be found at RKK ‘Energiya,’ no one associated with GLONASS at Roskosmos is worried about his job.

And so he recaps where this leaves GLONASS.

By 2008, GLONASS reached 18 satellites and complete coverage of Russia.  A fully deployed GLONASS of 24 spacecraft should have covered the planet by the end of 2009.

Russia counted on a service life of 7 years, but the satellites are only lasting 3-1/2 to 5 years, so the system couldn’t be completed.  The system officially has 20 operational, and another 5 are held as “being studied by the General Designer.”  The oldest satellite is 71.7 months old, one is 60 months, and two are 47.4 months.

So, Myasnikov concludes, even if 6 satellites are orbited, a complete system will likely need 8 over the next two years, leaving GLONASS a ‘long unfinished work.’  GLONASS-K is coming, and it’s supposed to have a 10-year service life.

Then he turns to the global positioning system market.  GLONASS has only a 1 percent share of a $60-70 billion market.  In the future, if Russia captured 15 percent, this would be $9-10 billion annually, more than Russian arms sales.  But it isn’t likely.

In 2014, the European ‘Galileo’ system will begin operations.  This will be a serious competitor for GLONASS.  And the Chinese ‘Compas’ will be fully deployed by 2020.  And GPS is already moving to the next level – 48 satellites and 0.9 meter accuracy.

Myasnikov sums up:

“Russian cosmonautics is living through a serious crisis.  It has turned from high technology, science-intensive sector into simply capital-intensive.  Global scientific projects lead to project-mongering, while plans for real earth and space research are regularly delayed.  Almost nothing new is being created.  To replace some multibillion projects come others which cause even greater enthusiasm among the budget recipients.  The reusable ‘Angara’ has already been in development for ten years, cosmodrome ‘Svobodnyy’ is first closed, then opened.  So GLONASS is just the tip of the crisis iceberg.”

“In four months, the country will proudly note the 50th anniversary of Yuriy Gagarin’s flight.  But what’s being done now that we’ll proudly note after the next 50 years?  Certainly not GLONASS in a halo of lies.”

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One response to “GLONASS as Dolgostroy

  1. It is alarming that Glonass satellites are lasting only 3.5-5.0 years instead of 7 years. Is it due to exhausting of on-board fuel by frequent corrections in orbits or some other factor. Whatever it is, the latest data must be evaluated and the quality & life period of new satellites increased to levels required to at least match the replacement frequency of these satellites. Unless Glonass is commissioned Russia will be in danger of dependence on other systems.

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